Though overlong and rough around the edges, END TIMES is decently made and occasionally punches above its weight
For a film with the Asylum label on it (“Celebrating 25 Years,” exclaims the logo for the low-budget distributor), this is not too bad. Instead of trying to deliver dinosaurs on a miniscule budget (a la Jurassic Domination), End Times offers a post-apocalyptic horror tale whose ambitions remain mostly within the scope of its resources: isolated locations, a couple of CGI establishing shots, and some good practical makeup and effects. Though overlong and rough around the edges, the film delivers an interesting variation on the familiar scenario and even generates a genuinely moving emotional beat or two.
Despite the title and a few portentous literary quotes, End Times has little to do with the Biblical apocalypse. A viral outbreak is killing people and turning them into zombies; urban centers have become depopulated wastelands, but fragmentary radio broadcasts suggest remnants of civilization may remain. The narrative focuses on a survival trek by the two main characters: Claire (Jamie Bernadette) is young and helpless; Freddie (Craig Stark) is middle-aged and well trained for the current situation. Together, they hope to reach a perimeter set up to contain the outbreak, but their journey is punctuated by lethal encounters with dangerous zombies and even more dangerous humans.
Along the way, a few novel details emerge: Zombies retains some traits from their human life, so one that was a trained fighter might be more dangerous. Perhaps even more troubling, the plague is apparently airborne, so not being bitten does not prevent infection. Claire and Freddy have temporary immunity because of vaccines given to them for travel abroad (her on vacation, him on some kind of lethal special ops mission), but there is no telling how long that will last.
After a bit too much time walking through deserted areas of Los Angeles (including San Pedro), Claire and Freddy find refuge in one of those places that is too good to be true, and this is where the story gets interesting. For most of its length, End Times follows the traditional course of showing an older character showing the ropes to a young protégé; here, the film flips the script somewhat, presenting Freddy as someone so geared for violence that he rejects the promise of a non-violent life among a happy commune in favor of returning to the post-apocalyptic wasteland.
In effect, End Times is not about Claire learning survival skills; it is really about Freddy regaining his humanity, which is stated explicitly when Claire notes that it took “the end of the world” to turn him back into a “good man.” This plays out in the film’s wraparound sequence, teased at the beginning and fulfilled at the end, which depict a dilemma that typically shows up in these stories: what to do with someone who is infected?
Played out at extended length, these scenes reach a surprisingly poignant emotional crescendo, so effective it makes you want to overlook the somewhat muddled message: Claire berates Freddie for his paranoia about the commune’s leader (whom Freddy amusingly calls a “Viking Jesus”), but his fears turn out to be justified. So is End Times truly criticizing Freddie when it shows him returning to the dangerous outside world and happily seizing the first opportunity to kill someone? His return to save Claire seems to indicate a change of heart, but it takes place offscreen and without explanation. (Presumably, it is supposed to be like Han Solo coming back to help Luke blowup the Death Star.)
The script could have used another draft to clarify this and other plot points. For example why are Claire and Freddy heading to the perimeter even though he repeatedly states that the guards there will shoot them on sight; does he have a plan to prevent this? And the ending seems spliced together from bits of footage to suggest a scene that was never filmed, as if the conclusion was changed in the editing room.
These missteps are unfortunate in a film that strives for a dramatic tone focused more on the living than the living dead. Zombie action is relatively minimal but well done; most conflict takes place among humans. Though not an unrelenting bloodbath, the unrated film does not shy away from exploitation elements, including a brutal rape scene, but at least the script tries to incorporate that trauma into the character’s emotional arc as she struggles to adapt to this horrible new world.
Technical credits and production values are adequate but lack polish, which suits the low-budget horror vibe. However, the character interaction could have been enhanced with a bit more rehearsal time and a few more retakes. End Times is probably not worth checking out during the film’s brief, limited theatrical run, but genre fans may find it worth a look on home video.
End TImes (2023)
1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
End Times is a better than expected effort from low-budget distributor The Asylum. Though overlong and rough around the edges, it is decently made and occasionally punches above its weight. Ultimately, we opted for a two-star rating because the narrative missteps were frustrating, but the film was worth watching to the end.
Credits: Written and Directed by Jim Towns. Produced by Jamie Bernadette, Jim Towns, and Craig Stark. Not rated. 113 mins. Distributed by The Asylum. US Theatrical and VOD Release Date: July 14, 2023.
End Times is currently screening in an exclusive engagement at Laemmle Town Center in Encino.